Hampstead Theatre, London NW3
Opened 19 November, 1991

On paper it seems to be courting disaster: staging one of George Bernard Shaw's early Plays Unpleasant with its original third act played after the rewritten version. In practice the two alternatives have nothing whatever in common. Mark 1 mordantly ironises the curmudgeonly sweetness of Mark 2's shapely and acceptable late-Victorian dénouement; set four years later, it serves up a wholly unheralded disquisition upon the iniquities of marriage law. Its Ibsenesque tone slits up a treat the preceding (grotesquely dated) satire of the Ibsen Club for unwomanly women and unmanly men.

Brian Cox's soufflé but sure directorial touch draws as much as possible out of the script on all counts, but can't quite unify these poles. Clive Owen's Charteris is a wonderfully smooth Dublin rogue (or possibly bounder, but certainly not a cad) dressed and played as a surrogate young Shaw; Jonathan Coy as Dr Paramore hurtles from self-aggrandising medic to pigeon-toed suitor to trapped, distressed husband without ever dropping the baton. The combination, though intriguing, sits like ancient Greek theatre in reverse: three chunks of satyr-play followed by a dollop of dolour.

Written for City Limits magazine.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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